Busted Axle Road
Chapter 1: April, 1987
"Thirty-six is too damn old to be pregnant," Kirsten Langenderfer thought to herself for the umpteenth time in the last five months. This kid was giving her twice the problems that Tiffany and Henry combined had done, and she hadn't exactly been a youngster when they'd come along, but it had been six years since Henry, and that had made a big difference.
She looked out the window. It was starting to get light out there, and it looked like it was going to be a dismal day.
Spearfish Lake was at its worst in the spring, with the trees naked, and the snow mostly gone. What snow that was left was black and gungy from the accumulated dirt that had been scraped up when the streets had been plowed. The snow that had looked so pretty laying on the ground now was gone, exposing all sorts of junk that had been better covered up. A bright, sunny day would help, but this one was going to be cloudy and gungy, she thought.
The clock read a quarter after six when she glanced at it. Since it was a Wednesday, and Mike's turn to take the paper to Camden, he had already left, and was probably halfway there by now. It was still too early to get Tiffany and Henry up, and that didn't leave her a lot of options. "I'd better go try it again," she thought, grimacing.
She'd never had problems with constipation or hemorrhoids with either Tiffany or Henry, but little whatever his or her name would be was making up for it in spades. So far, this kid was proving to be a pain in the butt.
It had been two days, now, and the longer she put it off, the worse it would be. No matter what all the ads on TV said, since she was pregnant, she didn't dare use something like milk of magnesia to give nature a nudge, and if something didn't happen soon, she was going to have to give herself an enema. Again. The mere thought both pained and disgusted her.
There was no putting it off, then. She poured herself a cup of decaf -- a poor substitute for the real thing, another price to be paid for getting wild with Mike one night, going out to Turtle Hill, and getting it on in the back seat, like she'd more than once done with Henry Toivo, back in what had to be another lifetime.
She shook her head; thoughts of Henry Toivo still hurt, after all these years. Taking the coffee with her, she went up to the bathroom, set the coffee down on the counter, pulled up her housecoat, and sat down on the pot, hoping something would happen and this time, it wouldn't be too bad.
Best try to get her mind off of it, she thought. The bra she had rinsed out the night before hung from the shower head, and she wondered if it would be dry enough to wear today. That was another thing; with this kid, she even had to wear a bra to bed, and Mike didn't like that one bit. But, as big as she was, and bigger yet with all the hormones the kid was pumping into her, she didn't have much choice. After all, there were times that wearing a bra wasn't appropriate for her, so she knew that she'd have to limit the damage.
How lucky those flat-chested girls that had envied her were! Girls like Jackie, like Linda. She remembered how she'd discovered that Linda Clark habitually wore a couple of inches of armor plating to make her look bigger. She'd been Linda Caserowski then, when Kirsten and Linda and Betsy Toivo had shared a sauna with Henry Toivo and a couple of friends. That had been the night that Henry had picked her up and thrown her naked, steaming body into a hole cut in the ice of the Spearfish River, and somehow in the process become the love of her life. That had been what? Twenty years ago? Every bit of it, she realized.
Poor Henry. Even with her son named after him, it still hurt to drive out on the highway and see the sign that said, "Henry Toivo Post 27, American Veterans of the Vietnam War". The post had been pulling every string they could find for years to get permission to send a group to Vietnam, to look for clues to how Henry had disappeared back in '71. She'd never actually married Mike, just on the long chance -- she'd never admitted to herself the impossibility of it -- that Henry might somehow, someday reappear.
She looked up at the bra again. She'd have to get up to see how dry it was, and she admitted to herself that while she was up, she might as well get the enema bag and get it over with, since nothing was happening. She looked at the clock on the counter; if she was going to have to do it, she knew she'd better do it before she got the kids up for school, and it was almost time.
Resigned to the inevitability, she sighed and got to her feet. It was only a couple of steps over to the bra, and more disappointment; it was still damp, and she'd have to get out a clean one, one that didn't fit as comfortably, and she'd be hurting before the day was over with.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see something move as she turned away, and she turned back to see what it was -- and let out a scream as loud as the whistle on a railroad engine.
There was a little black snake, half in and half out of the bathtub drain, wiggling hard, trying to get up onto the white porcelain of the tub -- wiggling that ceased even before Kirsten's scream died out, as the result of the impact of a hair dryer, the first thing she could lay her hands on.
The hair dryer shattered with the impact of Kirsten's blow, and she started to swing it again, until she realized that she was only holding a handle with a couple of wires hanging from it.
"Mommy, what's the matter?" she heard Tiffany's voice from the bathroom door.
"Th-th-there's a sn-snake in the t-t-tub," Kirsten stammered.
"Oh, let me see," Tiffany bubbled brightly, opening the door.
Still terrified, Kirsten flattened herself against the far wall, as her daughter came into the room and looked into the tub. "D-don't touch it," she stammered.
The nine year old ignored her. She went over to the tub and crouched down. "Oh, Mommy, you killed it," she said, disappointed, then brightened, "Can I take it to school for show and tell?"
"I don't care, just get it out of here!" Kirsten yelled. "Don't let me see it!"
"OK, Mommy," the little girl said, picking the snake up by one end. "Thanks."
"Get it out of here!" Kirsten repeated, still shouting, with some small part of her mind wondering how her daughter could stand to touch the slimy thing.
"OK, Mommy," Tiffany said, still unconcerned. She stuck out her hand, the snake dangling from it, and Kirsten flattened herself even tighter to the wall. "Mommy," she said, pointing at the mess on the linoleum, "Did you poop the floor?"